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Metrics and Tools for Sustainable Buildings Project


Building stakeholders need practical metrics, tools, and data to support investment choices and policymaking related to sustainable building designs, technologies, and regulations. EL is addressing this high priority national need by extending its metrics and tools for sustainable building products, known as BEES, to whole buildings. This involves developing whole building sustainability metrics based on innovative extensions to Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Life-Cycle Costing (LCC) approaches involving building energy simulations. These new metrics assess the "carbon footprint" of buildings as well as 11 other environmental performance metrics, and integrate economic performance metrics to yield science-based measures of the business case for investment choices in high-performance green buildings.


Objective: By FY 2014, develop, integrate, apply, and deploy measurement science assessing the sustainability performance of energy technologies and systems in an integrated building design and operation context.

What is the new technical idea? The new idea is to address building sustainability measurement in a holistic, integrated manner that considers complex interactions among building energy technologies and systems across dimensions of performance, scale, and time. At the whole building scale, NIST is developing an extensive database of energy, environmental, and cost measurements for prototypical buildings based on detailed energy simulations, innovative life-cycle material inventories, and life-cycle costing (LCC). These measurements will be used to assess and compare sustainability performance for whole buildings meeting a range of building energy codes and standards on a state-by-state basis. The comprehensive sustainability performance metrics and database will be embodied in a decision framework including eco-efficiency measures, policy options, and assessment and reporting tools to help building industry stakeholders develop business cases and policies for sustainability investment choices.

What is the research plan? A unifying framework for sustainability measurement will be developed for the U.S. economy and then applied to the U.S. construction sector and its constituent building types. Through this “top-down” approach, a series of baseline sustainability measurements will be made for prototypical buildings, yielding a common yardstick for measuring sustainability with roots in well-established national environmental and economic statistics. Using detailed “bottom-up” data, the baseline measurements for prototypical buildings will then be adjusted to reflect a range of improvements in building energy efficiency, enabling assessment of their energy, environmental, and economics benefits and costs.

Databases. Baseline databases enabling sustainability performance assessment for a range of new building types, energy technologies, and systems will be compiled. These sustainability databases will include energy, environmental, and economic performance measurements. In FY14, the energy simulation model for the NIST Net Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF), and its associated cost and LCA data will be used to create a sustainability database for advanced low-rise residential energy technologies and building construction processes.

Reporting. In FY14, the sustainability database for 10 prototypical low-rise residential designs will be integrated into the Building Industry Reporting and Design for Sustainability (BIRDS) software package. Detailed documentation will be prepared on the development of the life-cycle cost and life-cycle assessment approaches necessary to create the database. This document will be added to the extensive Help System for the BIRDS tool, which together with the new residential data will constitute a new release of BIRDS capable of analyzing another major building sector. Upon the completion of the sustainability database for the NZERTF in FY14, a document will be prepared comparing the sustainability performance of the NZERTF to a comparable Maryland code-compliant residential building design.

This research plan addresses needs gathered from an industry stakeholder group and refined through ongoing team feedback. The economic importance of this research plan and those of other NIST construction-related programs will be documented through annual updates to construction industry supply chain statistics for the Engineering Laboratory (EL) Director and the Manager of the Net-Zero Energy, High-Performance Buildings Program. These statistics incorporate both investments in energy-related systems and components and metrics for measuring energy-related expenditures at the industry and sector levels.

A project team member will be producing major revisions to two ASTM standard practices, ASTM E917: Standard Practice for Measuring Life-cycle Costs of Building and Building Systems and ASTM E1074: Standard Practice for Measuring Net Benefits and Net Savings for Investments in Buildings and Building Systems.

Major Accomplishments:

  • New technical expertise in energy simulation and top-down LCA enabling science-based sustainability assessment of whole building energy, environmental, and economic performance on a life-cycle basis.
  • New database for U.S. building sustainability assessment covering 228 locations, 12 building types, and 5 levels of energy efficiency.
  • New guidance for policymakers on benefits and costs of energy codes.
  • The environmental importance weights developed by the BEES Stakeholder Panel are used in LEED version 3 and standardized in ASTM E1765-11 for Multiattribute Decision Analysis.
  • 50,000 Unique Visitors to BEES Online in its first year.
Standards and Codes:
  • Expected impact: Adoption of more efficient and cost-effective energy and green construction codes by states currently using outdated or no codes.
  • B. Lippiatt, International Green Construction Code Committee.